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Topic: To tell a story with magic or to not tell a story
Message: Posted by: Jaxon (Dec 22, 2004 01:10PM)
This is just something I was thinking about the other day so I thought I'd share it with you all.

I hear a lot of magicians say that you should tell a story with your magic. Well, I know not everyone is going to agree with me but I disagree with that.

I think telling a story is something you [b]could[/b] do and when you can do it, it can really make a routine stronger and more entertaining. I just don't think it's something you always need to do. Big difference between [b]should[/b] and [b]could[/b].

Anyway, I don't think it's as important to tell a story with magic as it is to give them a story to tell with magic. Something they'll be telling others about for years to come. To me one of the greatest compliments is to have someone tell someone else about me 20 or 30 years from the time they saw me. For them to say, "I once saw a guy do ________."

My feeling is that if one is good at story telling skills (an ability every performer should put some work into), if they can captivate an audience with those words. And those words heighten the strength of the effect then by all means that performer should tell that story with that routine. When it's used properly it can really turn a trick into a real entertaining piece.

Every routine I do has it's lines and bits that make it entertaining. I rarely tell a story in a verbal sense though. I do have presentation, they're just not always stories in the verbal sense. If something like, "I was sitting at home the other day and I though, Wouldn't it be cool if [this or that] happened." If this is considered a story then I guess I do use them.

I've just seen so many performers. Even ones that have blown me away when we are performing casually, get up in front of a group and go into some story to lead into the effect. Now, I have a different perceptive then most on this. I can't judge there story telling skills by listening to them. When I see a performer do this I kind of scan the audience to see there reaction. Quite often the reaction I see on the faces of the people is boredom. Not always. I've seen some performers do a 10 minute act with only one real trick and the audience loved it. It just doesn't seem that to many have this ability. I'll admit that if I'm not doing magic or telling humor about things such as my deafness, I wouldn't be able to present a very entertaining act. That's just my thoughts.

Ron Jaxon
Message: Posted by: BarryFernelius (Dec 22, 2004 10:53PM)
Every type of effect, including silent manipulative stuff, tells a story of some kind, whether you want it to or not! Even if you're not trying to tell a story, even if you have a bland personality, the audience imposes a story on your act based on both their background and the total impression that you make with your actions, costume, etc. Effects also have subtexts and things that are associated with them, regardless of what you do.

The question, then, becomes much simpler: do you want to be in control of the stories that you tell or not?
Message: Posted by: Lee Darrow (Dec 23, 2004 01:33AM)
Barry, while you are right in that every trick tells a story, not every trick has to be a story-telling presentation. I do several strong effects that have little story line in the presentation, yet get remarkably good reactions. No long stories about the linking rings and a trip to Mongolia, no stories about a Mamma sponge ball and a Pappa sponge ball, no stories about how a hank of rope came from Alcatraz's execution chamber or whatnot, especially not for my trade show programs.

To paraphrase Freud - sometimes a trick is just a *(&%# trick! :lol:

When I worked at the New York Loungs, with Heba Haba Al, Skeets and Uncle Johnny Murray and the gang, I noticed that every trick they did had a script to it, but not necessarily a defined story line per se. The Benson Bowl was a "watch what happens when you tap the bowl with the stick" presentation - with a lot of jokes thrown in - and the like. Rarely did you hear one of the guys in there tell a story while doing a trick. There just wasn't time to go into a long, drawn out literary presentation to do a copper/silver routine.

So, in my personal opinion, not every trick needs to be a story-telling trick, which I believe is what Jaxon was really alluding to.

Your mileage may vary, obviously.

Lee Darrow, C.H.
Message: Posted by: Sam Griffin (Dec 23, 2004 09:11AM)
Story telling should be included in all shows. Fullstop. These are my quick thoughts on it.

1. Gives the magician the power of control, as Barry mentioned.
2. Gives the audience more bang for their money, as the magic now contains great believable acting for their viewable pleasure.
3. Gives the magician the chance to express his personality and character to a more personal level, building rapport quicker with the audience.
4. The audience will remember you as the guy who performs not only great magic but also a great entertainer.
5. Will sub-consciously bring the magician to perform to his fullest potential. As the climax heightens in your story, your level of confidence will heighten.
6. The audience will be clapping you for the monologues as a great entertainer..really getting their money worth..then, when the magic hits..the applaud will be thunder.
7. Can create emotion in the audience easier.

All based on the same point.

" 2 shows in one, Acting as the build up..huge clap...then the magic when the audience are at their happiest - ABRAKADABRA! The magic will actually mean something to them."

Very interesting topic, looking forward to others opinions.

Kind Regards,
Sam Griffin
Message: Posted by: Jaxon (Dec 23, 2004 02:12PM)
Every thing I've read I agree with and that confuses me. I'm sure it depends greatly on performing style.

I'd like you all to try something someday. Do this if you ever think about it or have the mind to experience it. This is something I end up doing without think about it because of my deafness. You see, when I watch a live magic act at a magic convention. If the performer is doing g a lot of talking I end up doing a lot of waiting. Waiting for the visuals that I so crave to see. I'm not saying that while the performer is talking they aren't being entertaining. I just can't fully participate in that. So I feed off the audience in these moments. I look around and watch there faces as they watch the performer. this gives me an idea of what's going on up there. If I can't enjoy this portion of the show then I might be able to enjoy the audiences reaction to it.

One thing I've noticed when doing this is unless the performer is funny at these moments. Then audience doesn't seem to enjoy it. I understand how the story line could heighten the ending effect. But I'm just going by what I see.

So, what I'm suggesting you try sometime is to go to a magic show. Preferably one you've seen before. And watch the audience rather then the performer during these "story telling" moments. I'm not saying to be rude to the performer.

I do have one suggestion to those who do use a lot of story line. This is just my thoughts though. I don't think they should open with a lot of dialog. Give them something visual first. Then move into the story line. It's much easier and I think better to get there attention visually at first. After all, it's what they are hoping to see anyway when the pay to see a magic show.

Ron Jaxon
Message: Posted by: Curtis Kam (Dec 23, 2004 03:10PM)

I discuss this in my most recent lecture. I posit the theory that all magical presentations can be grouped into three catergories: Stories, Lectures, or Games. The difference is the the role the audience is asked to assume. Story presentations make them listeners. Lecture presentations amke them Active Listeners. Game presentations make them Participants.

Consider Tommy Wonder's essay about levels of involvement. He asks, (much more effectively than I will be able to here) what would have a more memorable and lasting impact on you: 1) I tell you a story about a car careening out of control into a canal, 2) You see a car careen out of control into a canal, 3) you are in the car that goes out of control and into the canal.

Thinking along those lines, the story presentation is the least effective way to present an effect, as the audience is twice removed from the action.

So what is the optimal way to present an effect? Depends on the effect. Each style of presentation offers different strengths and weaknesses, just as each method and effect does. The trick is in recognizing the advantages and disadvantages of each style, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a given effect, and finding the right match.

To the point, while a story presentation can add an emotional element to something that is mostly of intellectual interest, story telling can distance the audience, casting them into a passive role. This is not a problem for masterful storytellers, however, not everyone can master everything. For many, the addition of a story to the magic trivializes the magic, since (in their minds) all stories are for children, in the same way that all card tricks are boring.

That's my point of view. If anyone is interested, this sort of thing is about half of my current lecture "Dangerous Notions". I hope to see you at one of my lectures next year.
Message: Posted by: Sam Griffin (Dec 24, 2004 12:50AM)
It really depends on the performer. For me, I don't get on stage to perform magic. My original act consisted of a 4-8 minute monologue. This I got great applaus for. I wanted to build my show to a more professional level. So then, I incorperated a little magic in there. I've won the the state estidford 2 times in a row with this act.

As for paid gigs, I wouldn't know how to advertise my show. As it isn't exactly a magic show, neither a stage show. It's both. As a one man show, would be very hard to get work in my circumstance. At the moment I am currently scripting a performance with more actors, more magic, singing and dancing.

Alittle like Rudy Coby. On the posters promoting the show, the word "magic" would not be on there. " The most visual eye popping performance ever" would be. ( Or something along those lines )

So for me it's a little different. The performer (us) is the directer of the show. So I guess it all depends on the way you would like your show to be viewed.

Message: Posted by: Lee Darrow (Dec 26, 2004 05:29PM)
Sam, that approach works great in a formal stage show setting, but in a bar or even a restaurant table, you don't have time for long, drawn-out story plots. You have between 5 and 8 minutes TOPS 10, to get in, entertain and get out - and in that time, you should probably do about 3 tricks or so, one to establish that you are a magician, one to impress them and one to leave them with a good impression of you and the establishment.

That does not leave a lot of time for story material.

Of course, your mileage may vary and here are lots of different ways to perform, but, in my onw experience over the years, I've found that one can involve a spectator simply by asking a question and having them participate in the actions.

As Jamy Swiss asked Michael Ammar once. "Sure, you want to involve them (the spectators). The question is 'How much?' "

In a restaurant or other strolling situation, you simply do not generally have the time for long story presentations. Even Eugene Burger admits that and presents his material in "short form" when working table to table, leaving the longer, more involved presentations for more formal show situations.

Sometimes, the situation necessitates trimming the story lines to their barest minimums - or cutting them out altogether.

Just my 2 cent's worth - mileage may vary, obviously.

Lee Darrow, C.H.
Message: Posted by: Mike Ching (Jan 3, 2005 03:11AM)
In my lifetime I've seen 2 MASTER Storytellers.

One was named GLENN GRANT, a Ghost story researcher/writer here in Hawaii. The other, in Magic, is more accurately a Master presenter, ANDRE' KOLE.

Top Pros in the biz consider ANDRE a genius, not only for his Illusion design prowess, but his ability to hold an audience. I have seen him hold a room rapt with descriptions of his travels and observing "Faith healers" use magicians techniques to dupe people of money while curing nothing at all. We absolutely believed he was a solid authority on this, having seen some of his impeccable illusion presentations earlier. We felt we were getting the straight dope from someone we had no doubt was among the very best on the planet. No one moved. We hung onto every word.

With a few hundred words and an unflinching delivery, Andre had nailed home some profound points.

1. He was a real MASTER of what he did.
2. He could give us real ANSWERS to riddles few on the planet had first hand privvy to.
3. He was imparting us with unquestionable TRUTH and FACT.

Andre did not dance about the stage, or gesticulate or clown.

He STOOD there, barely moving, hands confidently at his sides. Feet planted, no shifting from foot to foot. He made you believe that he WANTED you to hear these events, that it was IMPORTANT that you understand what he was telling you was reality, that the ability to be with someone like him live was a rare and lifechanging event.

(It was the 70's. Yes, he travelled for Campus Crusade for Christ, and he WAS there to change lives, by showing us how easily fooled we mortals could be by unscrupulous users of deception. While Stanford Professors were telling us URI GELLERS' powers were "Genuine" according to their "unquestionable" lab results [Kaff, Kaff] a professional deceptionist gave us the real low down and showed us how fragile our reality was.)

As I watched his effects, it struck me how he had every moment thought out, indeed, KNEW what we were mulling at any point in the presentation. His version of ZIGZAG drew a mass gasp when he waved a hand through casually after the pull-out. Slamming the murmurs of "mirror" at just the right spot (think getting that reaction is easy? Try with your ZigZag/similar routine. Not an Oooh, a GASP.) Go for it. Please invite me when you're ready.

My point is among the hundreds or performers I've seen work live. Only two or three have GALVANIZED me with what I consider a world-class ability to involve myself in their words. To get adults to involve themselves and experience something profound through the spoken word, is, in understatement, an art in itself, and the gifted on this planet are not many.

I bring all this up to motivate and inspire you with how deep the experience can be. And that MASTERING your verbal presentation means PREPARING it, no tripped words or fumbling for metaphores. CAN it, NAIL it.. because if within your opening 30 seconds the audience senses you are searching for words you are dead in the water, capable of amusing, but not truly amazing. Not this time.

Growing up in the 'biz I often heard local magi talk about how "so and so was such a great speaker" as if what he said sprang naturally and spontaneously from his mouth. (none of the many I knew seemed to practice their words, assuming that genius would emerge, and they would somehow say wondrous things when up in front of the lights!)

It amazed me that they didn't know better, and as I met more pros I saw how seriously they took the scripting of their words. That was their "science". But when they performed, it became their "art".

In my own list of 100 favorite magicians, ANDRE is likely in the top 5 for his planning, thought and CREDIBILITY. When he worked, it was all about us. )Wish I had seen DANTE and THURSTON live. Understand their Charisma was similar.)

My only suggestion for those in this topic is, please don't mention Storytelling as if it were for mere amusement. Be aware, (or remember) that it can "enthrall" and "move" us as well.

Never underestimate the power of the spoken word.

Message: Posted by: Magicmike1949 (Jan 5, 2005 12:25AM)
I believe it was Eugene Burger who said somewhere that your show should have texture. That might include some storytelling, some not.And as Michael Close points out: venue dictates material. There is no single answer. Your magic must fit who you are; like everything else you do.